Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Star Dreck

A week ago, if you'd asked me what Mesoloft was, I'd have assumed it was something you should ask your doctor about in case it's right for you. Turns out you should ask your coroner.

Good news for anybody who thinks we haven't dumped quite enough carbon in the air! Now, thanks to Mesoloft, you can drop a nice wad of it all at once, if you have enough scratch. Specifically, you can dump your mom, say, or anybody else who has shuffled off the mortal coil and been baked up tidy. You can have cremains sent way up on a weather balloon and released, and conceivably float burnt bits of your loved one all over the entire planet, as long as the trade winds cooperate--and as a bonus, you can add the trash of the balloon itself after it explodes due to low air pressure and drifts back down to earth, hopefully not into the gut of a turtle. I'd call the whole project a waste of helium, but tastes differ.

Mesoloft says your loved one will drift serenely over the oceans and mountains and eventually come back down to earth in the form of raindrops or snowflakes, even if they're Republicans. Thus the dreadful earthbound experience of scattering ashes into a breeze that suddenly turns on you will be replaced by the tantalizing possibility of exposing everyone on the globe to little bits of dead person.

First Person Buried On The Moon
This is indeed a lower-cost alternative to blasting your loved one into space, but of course you don't quite get all the way to space. You get to the Edge Of Space--there's probably a sign--about fifteen miles up, or down, depending on your perspective. There are other outfits that can get you farther, into Earth orbit, say, or to the moon, or even outside of the solar system. It all depends on how much money you have and how much you loved, or hated, the deceased. Some people are intrigued by the idea of having earthly remains circulating among the stars. Of course, we all will do so eventually, in a few billion years, so this is just a way of getting the jump on things. The space people describe their package as "environmentally benign," which is so, I guess, if you don't take the rocket fuel and such into consideration.

The deep space option will set you back over twelve grand, though, so it's a good thing the homeless have been housed and the hungry fed. Still, it seems a pity that for all that bacon they're only taking a smidgeon of Mom with them, an amount they have branded as a "symbolic portion," and you still have to find a stream to pollute with the rest of her right here on Earth.

This makes the Mesoloft balloon the low-cost version, plus you can get rid of all the cremains if you want. With your basic package you will get a video of the release of the ashes at the edge of space, something, the proprietors insist, you can enjoy over and over again, but I for one did not find the footage as enjoyable as one might. One has visions of a sprinkle of stardust swirling over the big blue marble, but even in the advertising video the reality looks much different. It looks like a sea urchin taking a dump. Boom, blap. Once the video has been recovered, you can have the whole show on a USB drive, which you can totally put a price tag on--it starts at $4,500--and then, if you allow yourself to think about it a little too much, you have now ruined the experience of letting a snowflake land on your tongue for the rest of your life.


Saturday, June 16, 2018

When You're A Con, You're A Con All The Way

I don't know how many Trump supporters read this blog. If they do, after everything I've said, they're probably really nice people. And I know there are really nice people who support Trump. Those are the people I'd like a word with. I won't yell, I promise.

I know you're out there. You voted for him, but if we ask you what you think of his behavior or demeanor, you cringe. You wish he weren't quite so crude; you wish a lot of things were different about him, but you believe with all your heart that he is on your side, and if everyone just gave him a chance, he'd make a big difference in your lives. He's a tough-talker, he's rich, he must know what he's doing. So if some of us worry about his careless and bellicose approach to the world, well? Maybe he'll shake things up by forgoing diplomacy. Maybe diplomacy is for losers. Maybe the guy with the tough talk will win it all for us. And if nation after nation loses respect for us, well, maybe they're the ones that are wrong, and we're better off on our own, and it just goes to show how special we are. And maybe all politicians are alike. They all make mistakes and say stupid things, so we should give this one a pass.

But he's shown us who he is all along. The man who mocked the disabled reporter, the man who put a photo of his wife next to Ted Cruz's plainer wife and considered it a campaign poster, the man who boasted about his dick during a televised debate, the man who demeaned his opponent Carly Fiorina by saying "Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that?"--the man who, for God's sake, took the basest, most overtly racist lies about Obama and threw fuel on them, for years, for years, knowing they're not true, the man who uses coy innuendo to plant lies, smear opponents, and inflame mobs, that is who he is. And yet so many of you hope he will somehow come through for you that you keep quiet, and wince a little, and even pretend that you don't hear Nazis and white supremacists chanting his name--because that doesn't have anything to do with you, does it? They've got the right. It's a free country.

I don't know. Maybe your only news source is the one manufacturing "news" straight out of a think tank funded by billionaires for their own purposes. Maybe you buy into the bullshit memes the Macedonians and Russians have been putting out. Maybe you help them go viral because they confirm what you already believe. Maybe you believe everything you hear.

Maybe you believe Trump was the only one who cared about you. Maybe you think that other party, the one that tried to get you affordable health care and equal pay and protect your water and air, was filled with snobs who thought they were better than you. Maybe you think this guy'll bring your job back, or bring your medical premiums down, or stop all the brown people he's instructed you to hate from coming into the country. But he won't.  

He has no idea what to do about health care other than tear down the previous compromise with nothing to replace it. When it doesn't work, he'll blame the Democrats for obstructing him, because that always worked before. You bought it before.

Here's what he has done. He's given you a tiny temporary tax cut and cut billions of tax dollars on corporations and the rich permanently. In a country with the most powerful military in the world that can't even provide clean water for its citizens and insists on a $7.25 minimum wage, he's put 700 billion dollars into the military. He's ripped up environmental safeguards that were already inadequate so that fossil fuel corporations and their shareholders can keep racking up profits, while hoping you all are still watching the actors on the "news" channel who are being paid to tell you climate change science is controversial. When we must be going all in on innovation in new energy and a sustainable future--one might say any future at all--he's barreling straight into the past on the fastest coal train he can find.

You're being played. He doesn't care about you. He just wants your vote. He'll tell you migrant workers and asylum seekers and Muslims and black men kneeling are your enemies, because he knows people with enemies can be talked into anything, and then he'll promise to protect you, to get your vote. He'll pretend he gives a damn about abortion to get your vote. He'll tell you four conflicting things about gun control so that you can pick the one you like and choose to believe that's the one he believes, too. And get your vote.

He'll make sure the violent MS-13 gang, which has operated on both sides of the border and internationally since the 1980s, remains on the front page, because he wants you to associate the gang with brown people, so he can sell you a big, beautiful, useless, 18-billion-dollar wall, while our own infrastructure is crumbling. And he wants you to worry about that gang every day, so you won't notice his own gang is dismantling the middle class and throwing the poor into the river to enrich the super-wealthy. His gang. The one that's rushing to tear down the protections put in place for you after the financial meltdown of 2008. Because the financial sector--a.k.a. "the swamp"--has long since made off with your pension and benefits and transferred your wealth to the wealthier, and they're eager to do it again as soon as Trump and his gang of Republicans gut the restraints. He is ballooning the deficit and debt. He's proposing billions of dollars of cuts to your Social Security and Medicare. He told you he had a 1.5-trillion-dollar infrastructure plan for you but asked for only 200 billion in his budget--after cutting existing infrastructure programs by the very same amount. Did you notice?

It's a con. He doesn't care about you at all. He cares about himself, he cares about money, and maybe he cares about his daughter, the sexier one. He doesn't give a damn about you. He wants your vote so he can continue to rake it in. To privatize public assets for profit. To deregulate for profit. To destroy unions for profit. That profit is not for you. It's for the super-wealthy. Look at that bad, brown gang over there, this man says; don't look at mine.

Does he believe what his Nazi admirers believe? I don't know. Maybe not. Maybe he's not that guy. Maybe he doesn't care about Nazis any more than he cares about anybody else. He damn sure doesn't care about you.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Faking Summer

We got the standard load of rain at the beginning of April, right on schedule. According to plan, our reservoirs began to fill up. We get our drinking water (don't tell the Third World, but we poop in it too) not from snowmelt but from a pair of dammed-up valleys just this side of the big mountain. So those spring rains are important and everyone knows it, which means by the time it has continued well into May and June, people are looking trudgy and damp and tipping water off their hats and whining quietly, "It's not the rain I mind so much, I just wish it would warm up a little." What they mean by that is it's totally the rain they mind, and also they wish it would warm up a little, but it doesn't. Nobody puts in tomatoes until Memorial Day. Peonies bloom and are instantly flattened by hail. Kids skid around in the mud with soccer balls, and then the Rose Festival Parade happens on about the second Saturday in June, and the sun comes out the next day and sticks around until November.

A Portland child.
That's what's supposed to happen. This year, it quit raining on April 15 and you couldn't apply a postage stamp with the moisture we've had since. People smiled at first and made like they were going to try for early zinnias but mostly didn't, but then it kept not raining, and it got a little warmer, and we had day after day of sunshine, mid-seventies, with a light breeze. Peonies went ahead and bloomed in all innocence and were not struck down for the sin of pride. The days were so pleasant I found myself thinking: this sure has been a nice summer. Hope it doesn't get too hot later.

I dislike hot weather a lot. The juices that are designed to operate my personal physical plant settle into jam and strand me in a lawn chair, too morose even to ask someone to make me a gin and tonic. Even my creative juices begin to gum up in the heat. So I was feeling pretty pumped about this summer, so far.

Then I saw the weather forecast. After eight weeks of sunshine, we were due for a decent downpour, last Friday evening. It was going to rain hard Saturday. Sunday it would begin to clear up again. Of course! What happens Saturday? Why, it's the Rose Festival Parade! It was going to be wet horses, soggy princesses, and drowned tuba players all day long. Right on schedule.

And that's why it's been such a nice mild summer so far. It isn't even summer. I don't recognize springtime unless the rain is sheeting off the roof and you have to re-park your car sometimes to even up the moss. We have completely bypassed spring. Everything's all messed up.

All of which means it's about time for The Oregonian to run another smug climate-change denial piece of crap by Dr. Gordon Fulks. Dr. Fulks has a string of vintage science degrees hanging off his resume like dingleberries and can't see what's right in front of him because his own ass is in the way, but The Oregonian likes to give him a platform whenever the tooth fairy is out of town.

But Saturday, at least, we could imagine that everything is still all right. Thunderstorms, which are rare here, even made the forecast, and we trotted off to stand in a puddle and watch the parade. Lightning! What is the highest point of the parade? Why, that would be the elevated dais on the float occupied by the Rose Festival Queen, wearing a metallic tiara. This could be fun.

But the Reser's Fine Foods float caught on fire, the reservoirs aren't anywhere near full, Dr. Fulks continues to fail to die, and the feckless chump in Washington is working his fanny off to suck the last fossil fuel out of the planet and put it in the air. Don't be distracted by all the flowers: make sure there isn't a horse's ass under them.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Take MyLife, Please

My life has been asking about me via email for a few years now. I don't pay any attention to it, because the less I know about my life, the better.

Besides, I know it isn't really my life. It's a website called MyLife and it looks like a nosy outfit trying to make money out of fear and suspicion. If MyLife really knew anything about me it wouldn't keep trying to make money off me by appealing to my fears and suspicions. And if it did, it would  try to do that by threatening to tie my foot to an anchor and throwing me in the deep blue sea. It has not done that, to date, so what does it know?

Instead it tries to pry money out of me by telling me my Reputation Score has changed. Odds are it can only go up, so I'm not worried. If I were actually worried about my reputation, I certainly would have lived my life in a very different way, and I would have been a lot more careful about what I've rubbed all over the internet. I am not a careful, secretive person. Anyone in the world can figure out exactly where I live and come over and bonk me on the head at any time, but I happen to believe it's unlikely, because I do not make a habit of harboring fears and suspicions, which is probably why I am a registered Democrat.

MyLife tells me I have one review on me already, and I'm only getting four and a half stars. Don't I want to know what people have said about me? Yeah, not all that much. And don't I want to see what they've got on me so I can correct stuff that's wrong?

Oh lord no. You start trying to correct the record and you might as well be putting up little orange flags next to the things you're really ashamed of. You've had the same wife for forty years? You're cruising for boys in the rest areas. You're not colluding with Russia? Russia is totally who you're colluding with. You couldn't possibly have done that thing with that prostitute because you're a germaphobe? Oh baby, a hard, golden rain is gonna fall.

But finally one day MyLife figured out a way to make me click on it. It gave me the tiniest bit of information about myself and some of it was wrong. It says I am Mary E Brewster (I arguably am); it says I also sometimes go by Mary E Brewster (I arguably do); it says I am 64 (everybody and his cousin who is in any way associated with a Medicare provider apparently knows that PLUS my phone number); and it says I currently work as a cook at a hospital in Twin Falls.

Whuh?

So I decided to click on over to MyLife just in case anything else snortworthy turned up, for y'all's entertainment. They do it the usual way. They start their report with little screens ("Arrest Records," "Imaginary Friends"), and a progress bar inches along ("80% dirt uncovered: do not close browser until we're done sweeping up") that gives you the illusion it's thinking hard about every aspect of your life. It asks if the person you're looking up is yourself. I click "yes" because I hope maybe they won't charge me for my own information, although the flaw in that logic is pretty clear. By the time they come up with the screen where they want your money, you've wasted enough of your time looking at the progress bar that just maybe you'll decide it's worth it after all. I guess that's how it's supposed to work.

My favorite screen was the one where they were scooping up information from the "Web," and then followed up with information from the "Dark Web." Oooooo! Spooky. I picture it as one of those funnel-shaped webs the wolf spiders spin. Evidently it's a thing, though. Because of my finely-tuned instincts about what will be a waste of time for me to know about, I did not look into it too deeply. Just enough to learn that a part of the Dark Web uses a traffic anonymization technique called onion routing. This is where they get you. You decide you need to do something about the onion routing, which sounds ominous, and your search engine comes up with a four-step cure, and eventually somebody is secretly recording you swinging a dead chicken over your head and putting it on YouTube, right there on the Sunny Web where anyone can see it.

Anyway, they did not offer me my own information for free, so as far as anyone knows, I'm a cook for a hospital in Twin Falls. That is as plausible as anything else and does accurately reflect my kitchen skills. If anyone would like a Fruit or Pudding Cup, let me know.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Staying Up For The Second Show

You all remember Mr. Happy. Mr. Happy was the little plant I bought four years ago with the salacious tag in it. He was the biennial that was supposed to grow for a season and then winter over and, when he reaches maturity, which in this case is what anyone else would call puberty, he was supposed to rear up into a gigantic pink flower spike of impressive girth and length. But you have to get him through the winter first, and since he's a Southern boy, he's not equipped for our winters. It would be touch and go all the way.

Nevertheless with the help of Dave, who wrapped him like a baloney sandwich during a cold winter night and, uh, fluffed the soil--let's go ahead and call that his nocturnal mission--he persevered and did exactly what the teaser on the plant tag suggested he might do. I don't know why Dave put himself out like that; he's a compassionate fellow by nature, and maybe  he related somehow. But when Mr. Happy burst into bloom in the spring, there was nothing subtle about it. He rocketed out of his short hairs in an explosive fashion, and he didn't begin to peter out until nearly winter.

Echiums are self-fertilizing, so he was able to play with himself, and that's all he did all summer. By the next spring, his kids were all over the place. There are pictures of Echiums thrusting out of the ground in profusion in their native California, full monty, and it's pretty clear you could get a show like that in no time starting with just the one plant, if your soil is suitably lascivious. I thinned out all but about a dozen plants and hoped for the best. Last you all heard about it was in December 2016, when I still hoped they'd winter over, but they withered and died, every last one.

Which was disappointing, but ultimately fine. They're not natives, and there's no real point in having them here except as a novelty.

But then, last spring, darned if there weren't another thousand Mr. Happies sprouting up everywhere. And I let them. These would be the original Mr. Happy's slower children, I suppose, but we're not here to judge, and if we were, we'd be judging their behavior. And we had another cold snap, and although I did not wrap them like a baloney sandwich, I did toss a prophylactic over the biggest group of them and gave them stage lighting, and they're all still going, and spring is right around the corner. This could really be something.

Original Mr. Happy was our backdoor man, so you didn't see him unless you went down the alley, as it were. Maybe they're used to this sort of thing in California, but around here putting even one Mr. Happy in your bed would be like showing up at the dog park with a camel. People will notice. And now we have way more than one.

They're all over the place. It's going to be a detonation. I'd say they go off like the Fourth of July, but it's really more like the last scene in Behind The Green Door.

Update: Only a few of them went off. They're different sizes and shapes. Intimidation might play a role. Or maybe most of them just like to watch.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Please Pass The Placenta!

So I guess it's been a thing for a long time. Some new mothers eat their placentas. See, I didn't know that. I know my mother didn't eat her placenta even though I never asked her. As a Norwegian, she enjoyed a number of menu items that don't appeal to normal people, and placenta might conceivably have fit the bill as long as the butter held out, except that it's not beige. It's not remotely beige, in fact. A placenta looks like a massive blood clot in flapjack form.

Anyway I'm basing my conjecture on the fact that when I asked her (in the flush of my all-knowing teen years, at the dawn of the hippie era) why she didn't have a natural childbirth, she said "I stayed awake just as long as I wanted to." She didn't say it so much as she snapped it off, with emphasis. My thought is that when the medical personnel brought her back to consciousness and handed her a neatly wrapped baby, she didn't think to ask if she could eat the placenta. Even though she was a very tidy person.

Animals routinely eat placentas for a number of reasons and tidiness may be one of them. Dogs eat them because it's a good source of iron, it's important to tidy up so as not to attract wolverines, and oh who are we kidding? Dogs will eat anything, hork it up, and eat it all over again.

Modern humans don't deal with wolverines as much as they used to and we are a little fussier about what we eat, for the most part. But hormones can make a person pretty peckish. Still, the eating of the placenta is usually done for a variety of reasons that may or may not hold water. It's considered to be good for the child, for lactation, or for the mood of the mother. It does sound sort of ancestrally legit. But on the other hand, if we were meant to eat the things our body has already expelled for some reason, we'd be eating babies too, wouldn't we?

I never gave birth but I'm not liable to have jumped on that bandwagon. I can't even deal with oysters. I'm pretty sure my first reaction to seeing my placenta would be "Thanks, I'm done with that." Fortunately most of the women who eat their own placentas these days have them sent to a company that dehydrates them and puts them in capsule form. Then it's just a matter of popping pills. That's how fecal transplants are done too. And if it ever turns out that pus, bile, or barf becomes a cure for anything, the capsule industry should be seeing boom times.

But don't pills seem like cheating, somehow? I'm pretty sure it would strike one of my family members as being over-delicate. She tried using one of those nasal syringes on  her infant when he got snotty and very shortly decided it was inefficient, and she channeled the spirit of her own foremothers and planted her mouth on the baby's face and shnorked all the shnot out of his nose and spit it out and it worked splendidly, just as it had for her tribe from day one. I think it's one of those things that isn't gross after you've done it once, much like another thing I can think of.

The very day I first heard about placenta-eating, I mentioned it to a man and woman who joined us for beer-thirty, and scored a hit right away. It was the man who had eaten the placenta. It wasn't his wife's, either. It was at some sort of hippie community event. Sauteed placenta canapes with toothpicks in them, or something. He explained that he ate the placenta because he was polite. "You don't get offered someone's placenta and say 'yuck,'" he said. "That would be rude."

I'm glad I wasn't at that soiree. To this day I'd be trying to keep straight in my mind who still thinks I'm a vegetarian.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

The Enemy Of The People

Someone just told me that America's in trouble because too many of us are blinded by our mindless hatred of the president. One would assume he was referring to the fist-bumping, angry, terrorist-loving, fraudulent Muslim president who was born in Africa, but no. Whole different president. Seems like someone has set people like me up as a straw man. After all, there's no need to listen to a mindless hater.

Except that doesn't describe me or my friends. America's in big trouble, but not because of us.

This president? I don't hate him. I do think he's a loathsome, contemptible, ignorant, ill-bred, dangerous, pathetically insecure con man, circus barker, and bullshit artist, but I am a forgiving sort, and do not demand purity from my politicians, and if he did anything laudatory I would acknowledge it. But he hasn't. Across the board, in every sphere, at every level, he is making everything worse. Catastrophically worse. That, I hate.

He's the sort who might be expected to dismiss the Black Lives Matter movement by piously claiming that all lives matter--except for all the people whose lives don't matter to him at all, including our fellow citizens, other nations, tribes, faiths, and his own political opponents. We are being deliberately sliced into factions, for no purpose but to divide us and politically conquer us, to one end. The enrichment of the rich.

We might wish that every Republican who rails against abortion would light up like a bulb if he has personally paid for an abortion. But let us just stipulate that for every one of them who honestly believes in the rights of embryos, there are dozens more who don't care at all, but are willing to use that lever to pry a reliable chunk of the electorate into the Republican column, to one end. The enrichment of the rich.

And somewhere there might be a Republican who suspects that gun rights have gone too far, but he is willing to let that go in order to pry off another reliable chunk of the electorate into the Republican column, to one end. The enrichment of the rich.

And you know what? I care about reproductive rights, and I worry about gun violence. But I would cede it all, and send women back to the coat hanger, and give every man, woman, and fetus a gun, if it meant the modern Republican party would wither and die. Because we're in a heap of trouble, and we're out of time.

It was forty years ago I was first startled to read that carbon might be our most dangerous pollutant. And now we are looking at the extinction of half the world's species in the next eighty years; we're on track to a collapse of all the world's fisheries in thirty; half our coral is dead now; we're running out of fresh water;  our ecosystems are collapsing; and those sounding the alarm are being dismissed as fearmongers and frauds. And a population easily gulled and lulled believes it. We grew up in the oil age with no sense of how special it is, how extraordinary our energy-enhanced abilities are, how unsustainable this existence is. We're a species that has muddled along for a million years and then, pretty much in my own puny lifetime, shot about sixty million years'-worth of buried carbon into the air, and that means that yes, unfortunately, as incredible as it seems, we really are living in the end times. We made them ourselves.

And the time to do something about it was at least thirty years ago, and plenty of people knew it. But the past is not retrievable, and the best we can do is start now. Instead, thanks to the feckless and ignorant occupant of the presidency, and his cynical enablers in the Republican Party, we're all in Thelma and Louise's car with the pedal to the metal. We know what must be done. We have no time left for ignorance. Or dupes. Or mercenaries. Or greed. Or any member of the one party whose only core belief is that--for them and their friends--there is no such thing as too much money.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Meet Linus

Not to brag or anything, but I've got awesome friends.

The other day, when I posted a thingy on Facebook about the wasps in my chickadee house, I got all sorts of advice. The thread got long. Halfway through, Bruce tossed in a few paragraphs and added "I'm an entomologist." Joshua came back with more wisdom and said "I'm an entomologist, too." Then I was all "Me too! I'm an entomologist!!" out of sheer exuberance, until I remembered I'm not actually an entomologist and deleted it. And then Eric jumps in the fray. He didn't even mention he is an entomologist, but he doesn't have to, because he's like the Queen Bee entomologist of all time. So that's three entomologists on one thread. Not counting me, who is more accurately a non-entomologist, a.k.a. retired mailman.

This is all very handy if there's a lot of stuff you don't know, or if, as in my own case, there's a lot of stuff you knew for a second but not anymore. For instance, when I found a new bug the other day, I could probably have posted a photo of it and gotten an immediate identification from several of my friends. But I didn't. I didn't want to be a pest, and I also wanted to try to identify it myself, old-school. I searched online.

Man, there are a lot of bugs.

First site I checked out suggested I note the habitat, because certain bugs are found in certain habitats. My bug was on my clothesline. He really liked my clothesline. He wouldn't get off my clothesline. Eventually I hung the whitey-tighties on either side of him and he didn't even flinch like a normal person would. There was no clothesline-habitat section on the website.

Then it asked if my bug had six legs or eight. It said if there were six, it was "most likely" an insect. I know why they hedged. You can't keep little boys from ripping legs off a spider. Similarly, if you see a glowing abdomen, it's most likely a lightning bug; but if it's all by itself in the middle of a little boy's forehead, it's an ex-insect and a shitty little boy.

I wasn't really getting anywhere.

Fortunately, I found a dichotomous key. You all know what that is. Dichotomous earth is what you put around your vegetables to keep the slugs out. No wait! I'm thinking of slug bait! A dichotomous key is what you use to figure out if what you have is a Backson, and if so, if it's a Spotted or Herbaceous one. The key asks you a question and you answer A or B. Depending on your answer, you get another question, and eventually it whuffles you down to your bug. So it's just like going to the optometrist's.

I'm never really sure if A is better than B there, either.

I started in on the dichotomous key and ended up concluding that I had an insect previously unkown to science, which was very exciting. Murrus clotheslinus, or Linus for short! I even searched the Oregon image database of all 331 state bugs and found nothing at all resembling my bug. My bug had wings sticking straight up and curb-feelers coming out of its butt.


Then I saw the image of Japygid diplurian. The whole image was entirely black. The Japygid diplurian is so rarely seen that they didn't have a picture of it, so it was probably my bug. And what a wonderful bug it was! The Japygid diplurian, it says here, even predated the dinosaurs. You get a bug that size that eats dinosaurs, you've got yourself a champion. They say the dinosaurs got wiped out by an asteroid, but it totally might have been the clothesline bugs. Awesome.

Still, hard to tell with no picture. I went back to my dichotomous key. Early on, when it asked if my bug had one pair of wings or two, I'd said one, because that's all I saw, but they can get really sneaky about hiding wings. I decided to change my answer. This is exactly how I do TurboTax, which is also a dichotomous key. They ask if you're single or married; over or under 65; like long walks along the beach (yes/no); have any passive carryover losses to report under section 651.4 with a slide-through diddler subject to the Crapmont Contraction between 1979 and 1982. I mark "yes" out of pure fear until it sends me down a rabbit hole of questions I can't answer, and then I go back and try "no" and everything works again.

Same thing here with the bug.

And there, eventually, under "two pairs of wings," is my bug. He's a mayfly. You all knew that already.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Having A Plan

Well, shit, someone got killed by a cougar in Washington, first time in 94 years, and we'll probably get a lot of dead cougars out of it. The perp got offed for sure. He was still standing over the mountain biker admiring him when he was apprehended.  I'd feel better about killing lions if we had more big predators plus enough room to stash them in, but we don't. Most of us are in cities and the rest are kind of strung out into the countryside trying to get space around us, and that covers a lot of map. And I do feel bad for the biker and I know I'm supposed to be more loyal to my kind, but Jeebus, there are so many of us, and most of us aren't really as cool as a cougar. Not saying I wouldn't try to bash one over the head if it came after me or after my friends and family, most of them, but it's all just a shame, isn't it?

So the paper had a thing about what you're supposed to do when you run into a cougar. The first is to pick up small children immediately, but what if you don't have one? Or if, like me, you can't throw it very far? Dave has already explained to me that his plan is to hold me in front of him to look even bigger than he is. My own plan was to climb him or get in back of him, so if we both try to carry out our plans at the same time, it's bound to look chaotic, which might trigger the cougar's prey response. We would look like one big sweaty moth at a porch light. (My backup plan involves explosive diarrhea.)

But what you're supposed to do is look large, face the cougar, speak firmly, and slowly back away. Remember: speak firmly. Bad Cat! No! Be assertive. Cougars are going to go after the up-talkers or people with vocal fry first, guaranteed. So right there, you can't say they're all bad.

One way you can try to look big is to stand on a rock and open out your jacket. And then if you're attacked anyway despite having a voluminous jacket, you're supposed to fight back with everything you've got. What? Are we supposed to knee 'em in the nuts? You ever try to find nuts on a cat?

The trouble with all this is that every one of these is the exact last thing you want to do. When I'm confronted with a cougar, I do not want to stand on a rock and risk tipping over. And I definitely do not want to open my jacket. Here, Kitty! Here is my thin, pale throat, with its rapidly pulsing delectable jugulars! And down here is my disembowelment zone! So in order to do all this, we need to have nerves of steel. I have already had one shot at this scenario, and I have determined that I have nerves of gelatin.

I might have told you the Rasty Old Bull story before, but I can't remember doing it, so you probably don't remember it either.

That last sentence was fallacious. Not only might you remember something I've forgotten, but it's damn likely. I don't even know why I opened the fridge half the time.

So you get the Rasty Old Bull story anyway. My sister and I went traipsing some distance across a rough pasture in Utah, after first climbing through the barbed-wire fence, to see a particularly nice petroglyph she knew about. We went, we admired it, and when we turned around, we were greeted by the unprecedented and jolly sight of our entire family standing on the car waving and hopping and pointing to the right and making no sound at all. We waved back. Some moments later, looked to the right. And here comes this rasty old bull. Keeping a slow but deliberate pace, balls swinging like nunchucks, on a trajectory that would put him right in our path on the way back to the car. "Walk steadily but do not run," Bobbie advised, and that sounded right, so we jammed it into second gear and headed for the car. At first. Then our strides lengthened. Theoretically we were still in a walking gait, but we looked like the Keep On Truckin guy. Finally our feet left the ground altogether. We gazelled straight across several arroyos and went completely Edwin Moses on the barbed-wire fence, clearing the ditch and into the car in one fluid motion. That was the most athletic thing I have ever done or will ever do in my life, and I got no chops left for a cougar.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Notes From A Lesser Birder

The Murre The Merrier: photo by Diana Byrne
Somebody has to be the worst birder in the Birdathon van, and I for one am not afraid to step up.

I had hope that things would be a little different this time. I've made strides. I pick up a little more knowledge every season. A few years ago, I was astonished when our fearless leader, Sarah, pointed up to some frantic dots halfway to the moon and said "Vaux's swifts." Whuh? How? And yet now I not only recognize them by sight, but also by voice. (They sound like photons swapping secrets.) I was ready for Vaux's swift.

And three years ago I thought she was making things up when she pointed out the Lesser Goldfinch, which, as it turns out, is totally a thing, and not a value judgment. In fact I now know it as one of the commonest birds in my yard, and I know its song, too. I was super ready for Lesser Goldfinch.

And, most significantly, I recently shaved a whole thirty seconds off my personal-best identification time for the female red-winged blackbird, a.k.a. that brown bird that's the only other thing in a marsh full of real red-winged blackbirds. The first time I saw it, I paged through the entire field guide looking for it, finally determining that it was a previously undiscovered species, which should excite other birders, but it doesn't. Anyway, I snapped off that ID in under a minute this time. I know--I'm amazed, too.

So off we went, and while the team was slurping coffee and easing into the day, I shot my arm out and bellowed AMERICAN CROW. Yeah, baby, in the bag! Mark it down and ink my initials next to it. I'm going to take a nap now.

But I longed for more glory. At our first stop I bounded out and squinted into the fog, but one by one, my aces in the hole showed up in someone else's hole, no offense. Anna's hummingbird, bushtit, black-capped chickadee, even Wilson's warbler, which I considered to be advanced--all of them quickly fell by the wayside. By the time I've got a bird in my binocs and a good read on it and am just about willing to go out on a limb with it, someone else has nabbed it right off its limb. Discouraged, I mentally reviewed easy and gigantic birds yet to be found, to no avail. Turkey vulture, red-tailed hawk, great blue heron, bald eagle, all of them landed in someone else's eyeballs before they landed in mine.

Pigeon Guillemot. Sure.
Meanwhile our other fearless leader Max glances at a featureless horizon and says "pigeon guillemot" and, when I look distressed, kindly says "Here, I've got it in the scope for you," but I still can't make it out. The only thing holding Max back from identifying all the birds is the curvature of the earth.

I've come to understand that we're not all possessed of the same talent. Sarah and Max and everyone else in the van have been able to sweep arcane details about birds into their brain pans and fry them up until they're crisp and accessible. Most of my bird details get accidentally tossed off the cutting board and down the garbage disposal before I get the burner on. We can't all have the same skills, and I'm freakin' deadly at Bananagrams.

But there was glory yet in store for me. Per my usual method--see where everyone else is looking, and look somewhere else--I spotted something interesting and hopped up and down squeaking ("See something, say something") until someone lumbered over with a spotting scope, found it in the sights, and identified it as a black-bellied plover, which I'd never heard of, in spite of which I went ahead and took credit for it. Loudly. That was my black-bellied plover, on account of how loud I was about it, and consequently they gave it to me and they can't take it away from me. Boo-yah.

We never did see a lesser goldfinch.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Pele's Flapping The Sheets

I've said it before. People take things so dang personally. One little thing goes wrong and it's all about them. Everyone bitches about the crappy weather on the weekend, but crappy for whom? There could be legions of salamanders who couldn't be tickleder about it, but nobody thinks about them. They think only of themselves.

I guess it's just our nature. We've got a hell of a thing going on in Hawaii right now that anybody should be honored to witness but it's being described as leaving a "path of destruction." Yes, it's possible you and your car and your house and your slower offspring and everything you've ever loved and cherished could be melted on the spot, but let's get some perspective here. This is clearly an act of creation, not destruction. You've got brand new real estate welling right up out of the ground before your very eyes.

We had much the same sort of event right here in Oregon not that many million years ago. Same kind of basalt flow. It flowed mostly westward at a decent clip until it hit the ocean and got chilly. Generally speaking, the basalt was said to flow at a rate a human being could outrun, although he would have to outrun it for a solid week. That was usually the sticking point, or would have been, had people been invented yet, but they hadn't, which cut down on the whining.

There are various ways in which molten rock meets blue sky. For instance, you could put a wedge of sea floor underneath the shoreline and keep shoving it down until it got so deep the pressure remelted it, causing volcanoes such as our own Cascade Mountains to pimple up about a hundred miles inland. But in the case of our huge shield-volcano basalt flows and the Hawaiian ones, it's because there's a hotspot underneath. Some spot in the deeper earth layers is perennially hot and churns out lava. Could be in the mantle, could be one floor higher; they're not sure. It's the spot where the fire goddess Pele sits and fans herself and complains that everybody's mumbling and the music is shitty now, and many people have left gifts for her as a bid for leniency, bouquets and leis and virgin teddy bears, but it doesn't work. (She wants chocolate.)

Pele doesn't move around, but the lithosphere above her does, so it twirls out a nice apostrophe of islands over time. In the case of the Hawaiian chain, it's the southeasternmost island that is newest and they are progressively older to the northwest. There's a volcano newer than Hawaii but it hasn't broken the water surface yet, and nobody counts it until they can drop a parking lot on it. That's another narrow-perspective thing people do.

Our own basalt flows have quite sturdied up the landscape for us. Apparently we are sitting on enough basalt that it could have covered the continental U.S. evenly up to twelve meters ("meter" is French for "yard"). We and our parking lots stand now as the westernmost legacy outpost of the old hotspot that is currently under Yellowstone. Ain't nothin' but heat coming up around Yellowstone and no end of wonders to behold, but even here you'll find people all cranky about not being allowed to annoy bison with their snowmobiles. If there were any justice in the world, these are the people who would get their asses geysered.

I think there are a lot of things everyone should be required to learn. Here's one that rarely makes the list: whichever patch of the planet you live on, you should know its story. You should know what got rammed or rumpled to give you your view; you should know why there are seashells in the middle of your prairie. You should appreciate how very tiny and ephemeral you are, and be humble, and enjoy the show, and try not to trash the place on your way out.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Strangled By The Arms Of Morpheus

I'm weirdly pumped about our big earthquake. We haven't had it yet but everyone promises, absolutely promises, we will. We've got an ancestral rip going on under our feet that is just itching to cut loose and there won't be anything subtle about it, either. So most people are afraid of it, with good reason.

Not me. And not because I am a brave person, but because I have only the shallowest acquaintance with reality.  Let me give you a quick tour of my brain. You can pretty much take in the whole thing from the front door.

You know those people who spend a lot of time worrying about stuff? People who anticipate the future so as to make plans and forestall disaster? You know, prepared people? I'm not one of those. I have a vivid imagination and tend to use it in a way that makes me feel better instead of worse.

For instance, I always envision our big earthquake happening when I'm asleep. I do assume it will be terrifying. Apparently there is complete unanimity on that, but the actual nature of the terror is difficult for me to imagine, so I don't. Much of the house will come tumbling down and I will somehow end up on the ground floor surrounded by dimensional lumber and sheetrock dust, but not in a pinning sort of way. It will be shocking, but I will be on a nice pillowtop mattress at the time. I might have a broken bone or two, but--as I picture it--it won't hurt much. I will crawl out from under the rubble dragging my useless but somehow pain-free leg, and I will be able to locate the peanut butter in the ruined kitchen, even without my glasses. It will be at a time of year it is not too cold or rainy. Friends and neighbors will emerge here and there, dusty but with a renewed faith in the goodness of humanity and newly appreciative of the important things in life: friendship, love, and the sharing of potable water.

I have read enough about our particular situation to know that we'll get shooken but good. Most of the ground beneath our house was deposited as a big gravel bar during the Missoula floods and in a major earthquake (the kind they absolutely promise we will have) it will turn into pudding. We're on a plateau, so we don't have to worry about our house sliding down a hill with the mud, but we shouldn't count on it staying upright, either. The house will be a wreck but after all we're way too wedded to our material goods already, and it will no doubt do us good to remember that.

So. That's what I imagine.

But that's before I heard of the new Earthquake Bed, which I actually can imagine. The new earthquake bed looks like a regular bed, but when it senses an earthquake the mattress suddenly plummets four feet and a metal box flings up and slams shut over you like a Venus fly trap, leaving you entombed in the dark whilst the planet thumps violently. It's like being dropped into a tyrannosaurus face. Fun!

It comes equipped with emergency rations and water and such, but I don't anticipate using any. There's probably something in there that will record for posterity the precise moment my heart blows up. The good news is I'll be pre-casketized.




Wednesday, May 9, 2018

A Bag O' Murr

In the olden days, life used to be clunkier. You had to write out checks and put them in envelopes and stamp them and run them to a mailbox just to keep your lights on. You had to show up on time to things or otherwise your friends would be worried sick. You couldn't get a copy of anything unless you planned in advance and had onion-skin and carbon paper. And in the olden days, you never had a picture of the exact thing you want show up in the margins of what you were reading, and if it did, you couldn't pay for it just by pointing at it.

No. If you wanted to find your exact right thing, you had to shlep through stacks of catalogs. They came through your mail slot in quantities sufficient to prop up the entire Postal Service. If you happened to be a mail carrier, you got to see every catalog there is. (Ladies and gentlemen of Route 531, sorry about the pizza stains.)

I found my very best thing in a catalog. It was a pair of Early Winters Butterfleece Women's Overalls. One glance was all it took. I ordered those puppies and never looked back. They look exactly the same as when they were new, even though I wear them all the freaking time and they're at least thirty years old. I'd wear them to church if I could get away with throwing a mantilla over them, and if I went to church.

They're only as heavy as a cup of butterfly wings, and other than that tiny suggestion of weight at the shoulders, they feel like naked-time, only warmer and less alarming to passersby. You can basically walk around inside them. You can slip an arm in them to scratch your butt without anyone even knowing. You can gain and lose the same fifteen pounds and they don't say a word. All of your bodily secrets are safe with them.

And that is why, for thirty years, every single time I put them on I get at least one compliment. From a woman. Complete strangers go out of their way to tell me how cute they are and ask where can they get some. Let's call that three times a week for six months a year at thirty years--two thousand one hundred sixty compliments. From men? Zero.

(That's almost true. One time, a man told me they were absolutely darling, called me "girlfriend," and asked if I wanted to hear the specials. But he lived for tips.)

Dave, who has not lived this long by being stupid, has never weighed in on the subject of my overalls. If prodded, he says he likes them because it solved Christmas for him two years running. I have the same overalls in three colors.

It's only been a little while since I learned about polar fleece. Polar fleece is essentially plastic. Polar fleece is made out of fossil carbon deposits and future dead sea life. So it's a good thing it lasts. Some day hundreds of years after the big earthquake I'll be discovered as a tidy pile of bones in fleece overalls that haven't changed a bit. The archaeologists will guess my height and age accurately and commission an artist's rendering of me in those overalls. Maybe they'll give me eyebrows. The caption will reference a woman in "really cute" typical middle Anthropocene garb. That is because there are going to be a whole lot more women in science, baby.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

The Marge And Studley Show: What Now Edition

Well, you just never know, and this whole eight-year enterprise in chickadee rentals has been one long exercise in just never knowing. Through it all, our admiration of chickadees has only increased, along with our own humility and frailty in the face of adversity. This is life, and life has its ups and downs and sudden screeching halts to it.

It started with the bird box Dave built according to Google directions, with its dimensions exactly yea-by-yo, and its freakishly specific drop-depth, and its entry hole precisely one and a quarter inches, per spec. And when we scored authentic chickadees with it, we were pretty chuffed. After all, how many rotten tree cavities are there around here with those exact requirements? Could Nature even pretend to compete with the mad skills of Dave? Clearly we had elevated the housing stock in the area and we were prepared to be the very best chickadee landlords we could be.

Nuthatch Fiasco...
But it's been one thing after another. The first few years we achieved invisible chicks, judging by the activity and the cheeping and whatnot, but we had to take it on faith. Then one year everything got started on schedule and the nest was abandoned. That was followed by the Year of Dead Chicks and Punctured Eggs. Then there was the dreadful Nuthatch Fiasco of '16, the likes of which I hope never to see again. Those nuthatches were as earnest as they could be but nothing went right for them at all.

Which brings us to this year, when I have been terribly excited by the prospect of monitoring Marge and Studley whilst actually knowing which was Marge and which was Studley, because Studley has a bum left foot. And no sooner does Marge start putting her mattress together than they both go away. Instead there are wasps.

...of 2016
So I haul the box inside for a look and unscrew the top and there's a small active wasp nest hanging from the ceiling like a chandelier. Marge's mattress looks to be nearly done, but there's no Marge. The Windowsons like to eat bugs but wasps are too spicy. I scraped off the wasp nest and re-hung the box after waiting a day to befuddle the wasps. I also took down the hummingbird feeder in case that was attracting them. Ten seconds after I shut the window a wasp came back to the house.

And maybe he was just trying to figure out what happened to his nice sculpture and he'd go away and pout. But how to get Marge back? Staging? Hanging a little picture of Marge's grandma? Laying in some potpourri that smells like chocolate chip cookies?

Besides, what's next? A plague of parasites? Hordes of Huns in hawk suits? Interference from the neighbor's Wi-Fi? Will it turn out that the Mercury in Retrograde crap affects only gullible humans and chickadees?

Odds are Marge and Studley are already off looking for new digs. I wouldn't blame them. We had a working cascara tree when we first put up the house. Now it's ninety percent dead and the birds like that too, but there aren't many leaves left and the birdhouse gets a lot more sun. I'd already thought about hanging an umbrella above it. No one wants to try to hatch a poached egg. How much intervention do our little friends need?

When you make the perfect bird house you like to think you're providing something for the community, but that's just what you tell yourself. The chickadees will figure something out. We have the box one foot away from our window because we want to watch. We put out a seed feeder and hang suet because we want to watch. But birds can share diseases at a feeder. Beyond hosing cats and planting natives and leaving seed pods to ripen, maybe we shouldn't be doing anything at all.

But. We want to watch.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

One Foot Away

My pal Julie Zickefoose is a world-class noticer. One of the cool things you can do if you're a world-class noticer like Julie is you can learn things that nobody else knows yet. It's not like everything knowable is out there on the web somewhere already, ready to be rolled out on casters.

Ornithologists like to follow individual birds to see what they're up to, where they've been, and where they think they're going this time of night, Missy. They do this by nabbing them in nets and sewing little tags in their underwear. Sometimes they nab the same bird in subsequent years and eventually they know how old they are without having to saw into their tiny legs and count the rings. Or maybe someone else nabs them 10,000 miles away and we know how far they flapped for fruit, and then later know they came right back to the same original dang tree to nest. Cool stuff, although it's a long shot you're going to learn anything about any particular bird. It takes a lot of luck with your nabbing.

But Julie pays fierce attention to her own homies. Sometimes it's easy for her to recognize them--a doe whose eyes are hooked up crooked, for instance, or a blue jay with missing feathers or a mustache. But she's so good at paying attention that she doesn't need anything that obvious. She can tell critters apart because of how they ack. One bluebird will distinguish himself from the flock by his tendency toward solipsism, for instance, which gives him--to Julie's observant eye--an air of skepticism that sets him apart. She'll not only know which cardinal winks, but whether it's an affectionate or conspiratorial wink. Probably affectionate. She goes out on a limb for them, as it were.

Even I can do it if it's easy enough. We have a crow a couple miles away with two white tail feathers and we've gone back for three years to check on him, and he's always in the same tree. We think it's right handy of him to be so recognizable. And I have also learned some things, by noticing, that are not in the books. For instance: robins fart. The literature says they don't, but they do, and I've seen 'em do it. But mainly I can't pick out individuals in a flock. Marge and Studley Windowson, my chickadees, to take an example, are i-stinkin'-dentical. They don't even know who they are until an egg drops out of one of them.

UNTIL THIS YEAR! GREAT NEWS! I can tell Marge and Studley apart!

SHITTY NEWS! It's because Studley's got a bum foot!

I saw him a few weeks ago and thought he was feeling po'ly. He was all flopped over and fluffed out on a twig the way birds get when they're sick. But he flew off for sunflower seeds like anything, and ate, and flew up into tall trees, and generally acted fine. Later I saw him checking out our bird house and could see that one foot was all balled up in a little knob and he had to hang from the other one.  Marge was inside hammering away on her nest. We'll trust The Literature that the female builds the nest, and that's how I know Studley's the one with the crumpled gam. And now I can really observe who does what for the next month and a half. I'm very excited.

Last year I thought the neighbor cat Sid had gotten Marge or Studley because the nest had been abandoned, and Sid had been stalking them for a while. But maybe Sid only got hold of Studley's foot. And that put him down for the count for last year's brood, but he's back in the pink now. Anyway, Sid is dead. He got run over by a car, which is really sad news for his personal human, but really good news for everyone else around here.